Prog Bloc Pushback on Ping-Pong

Ping-pong is the newest game being talked up on Capitol Hill now, to be used by the Senate to present a take-it-or-leave-it, no-conference-for-you version of "health care reform." Essentially, the idea is that the Senate will pass a bill and send it to the House, which would be expected to pass the exact same bill, then send it to the President to sign, presumably on his Hawaii vacation.

Pre-conference negotiations precede a successful game of ping-pong, which means the House leadership agrees ahead of time that they’ll pass the Senate version of the bill. The Senate makes some accommodations to please the House, and allow its leadership to ram the ping-pong ball down the House’s throat. David Waldman explains ping-pong:

Every bill can potentially move this way. And many non-controversial bills and resolutions do. Though conference is how many of the big, important bills get settled, every time a bill is passed and sent to the other house for consideration, it’s essentially an invitation to ping pong it. Legislators being who they are, though, the invitation is rarely accepted. More often, a competing bill will be taken up, or amendments will be made to the one sent over from the other body. And even after that happens, the other house is still offered a chance to go along with the second house’s version instead. It’s only when each house insists on its own position rather than adopt the version passed by the other that a conference becomes necessary.

The problem with ping ponging, though, is that it requires one house or the other to pass on its prerogative to continue to shape the legislative process. Tactical considerations may be such that it becomes advantageous to give up that right, but it’s not an easy thing to do. And the reality of things is that it’s usually the House that’s asked to give up, typically on the premise that the Senate’s makeup renders it immovable on the issues (most often thanks to the filibuster, but in which just plain ego also can play a large part). The Senate’s bill, the House is told, is "the best deal they can get," and the proposition is that it’s this or nothing.

What happens to all the hard-won battles in the House-passed version of "health care reform?" Well, some House progressives are making noises that they want to be equal partners in this legislation. After spending the better part of an entire session of Congress on this, can you blame them? Greg Sargent has more:

In interviews with me just now, two well respected House liberals — Jan Schakowsky and Jerrold Nadler — expressed skepticism about the current public option compromises emerging from the Senate, and vowed that House Dems would not be railroaded into swallowing the Senate bill.

“It would be a mistake to think that the House leadership will go into any kind of conference committee with the expectation that we’re just gonna sign on to the Senate bill,” Schakowsky told me. “The House intends to negotiate with the Senate. We expect those deliberations to be vigorous. The House is not simply going to sign on the dotted line.”

A railroaded bill takes the outsider game played by progressive blogs and activists — "our Senate game is our House game" — and makes it worthless. Only a bill that can pass the Senate in the bright lights of Joe Lieberman’s and Ben Nelson’s egos would be presented to the House as a fait accompli.

“The House is not going to be dictated to,” Nadler told me.

Both Dems expressed skepticism about the current public option compromise emerging in the Senate, which would create a national plan along the lines of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan and would be administered by the Office of Personnel Management.

“It’s important to understand that [the proposal] would be a completely private plan,” Schakowsky said. “Right now, I don’t see it as a good deal.”

Nadler was more blunt: “I don’t know that I would support it.”

"We’ll fix it in conference!" becomes the rallying cry of betrayed progressives, insiders and outsiders alike. Since Stupak/Nelson likely won’t pass the Senate, will a Stupak-less Senate bill without a public option be the House’s ticket to ping-pong?

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